Behind the Look

Vogue celebrates some of their favorite in-house stylists with a new book

Condé Nast’s most recent literary exploit, Vogue: The Editor’s Eye is an ode to the role of the stylist, fashion editor or sittings editor – the glue between the photographer, the model, the writer and the magazine itself. Beginning with Anna Wintour’s forward, The Editor’s Eye explains that until recently, stylists weren’t even identified in the credits for the photo shoots they coordinated, a ghastly oversight considering the influence they wield over a spread. The book is in some part an attempt to rectify this omission, giving the stylists the credit they deserve. Through an anthology of essays and accompanying image portfolios, it showcases some of the magazine’s most talented stylists throughout the last 65 years, with a particular focus on how their different personalities helped shape the various trends we have seen in fashion editorial.

I enjoyed the journey through Vogue’s history, starting in 1947 with Babs Simpson. The book effectively distinguished between the magazine’s different eras – loosely based on the editor in chief at the time (from Dianne Vreeland, to Grace Mirabella and then Wintour) – focusing on how the reigning editors inspired and collaborated with the sittings editors at the time. The eight essays, each focussing on a different sittings editor, were eloquent and insightful, and overall a pleasurable read. I especially enjoyed the essays on Jade Hobson, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Tonne Goodman; I thought their profiles really captured their individual attitudes and styles. The various essayists also succeeded at painting a fascinating picture of a seemingly golden epoch for fashion editorial during the 60’s and 70’s.

Each profile was accompanied by a portfolio of images to underscore the theme; I found the photos striking and timeless for the most part, though I think certain portfolios did a better job of highlighting their stylists’ approach than others. I thought Camilla Nickerson’s body of work included in the book added great insight into her personality and modus operandi; it was thematic, tight and complemented the essay well. Same goes for Jade Hobson and Babs Simpson. However, there were times when I found it difficult to distinguish the differences between certain editors’ styles, and I didn’t think the images accompanying the essays always illustrated the point the writers were trying to get across. As an anthology, it wasn’t very cohesive; though in their own right the profiles and portfolios were certainly effective.

If you consider Vogue your fashion bible you will enjoy this book. But, make no mistake, this is a book published by Vogue, written by Vogue writers, about how great Vogue is. For a more ambivalent reader seeking an unbiased gaze into the fashion editorial field as a whole (including influences from other magazines), you may want to keep reading.

photography // Brianne Burnell

There’s Something About Millicent

Cherie Burns follows the life and fashion of Standard Oil heiress and muse to many, Millicent Rogers

As a child, Millicent Rogers probably had no idea how much influence she would have on fashion and style in the early 20th century. She was rather sickly, known for being shy, and spent most of her time reading books and trying to avoid falling ill—a rather mundane beginning for the glamorous flapper and woman-about-town that Rogers would later become. She seems to have lived the American Dream: her family was new money (her grandfather was a grocery clerk turned whaler turned American industrialist) and Rogers herself was an heiress it-girl, an American archetype as eternal as the cowboy. She came to represent quintessential American style before people even knew what that was, mixing high-fashion and traditional garments from around the world and wearing denim long before it was considered fashionable to do so. She would have looked right at home in a Ralph Lauren ad from the ’70s.

Cherie Burns’s book is a fairly standard biography—there are randomly dispersed facts chronicling the miniscule details of various parties, mansions, tours of Europe, mentions in Vogue, and all of her lovers and husbands (though all this information is not always presented in an organized fashion). And of course, the book covers all of the designers she wore and influenced–Schiaparelli, Charles James, and Rudolph Valentino, to name a few.

One of the more fascinating parts of the book is about Rogers’s war years, when she hosted events for the USO and other relief groups. At one point she worked for the State Department, which was chronicled in the pages of Vogue, like so much of her life. Rogers had no shortage of love affairs in Washington—while she was there she met both Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. She was really into Brits in uniform at the time. She worked incredibly hard during the war, and her connections and creativity served her well, but because she was an heiress she didn’t get paid (even though she actually didn’t have as much money as people thought).

I was intrigued by Rogers’s decision to move to Taos, New Mexico in the later part of her life, and her involvement in the Native community there. At the end of the ’40s, Rogers was introduced to the American southwest by artist friends and became obsessed with the place, particularly the sartorial culture of the Pueblo Indians. She quickly established herself as what may be called a Native rights advocate, and introduced their traditional jewelry and fashions to the outside world. In 1947 she left her palatial mansions on the coast to lead a simpler life closer to the Pueblo. She died in New Mexico in 1950, when her poor health finally caught up with her.

For me, Searching for Beauty raised a lot of interesting questions about fashion and appropriation, though that is not the book’s intent or something it addresses explicitly. Rogers was well known for appropriating the native dress of many of the countries and places she visited, starting with her European sojourn in her late teens/early twenties and ending with the Pueblo Indians. Rogers was a study in contradictions on this point—on the one hand, she often bought these items from the people who wore them, and understood their significance (she was known for going to the ceremonies of the Taos in proper ceremonial dress), but then she had them sent to European designers like Schiaparelli to be copied. The Millicent Rogers museum, which is made up of Rogers’s fantastic collection of Native American jewelry, art, and textiles, is known for preserving these artifacts. Still, she was one of the first people known to make appropriating clothes from other cultures fashionable, and I couldn’t help but think that Rogers, without intending to, contributed to the mainstreaming of First Nations dress. Did she have a hand in young white people wearing headdresses and major fast fashion corporations making offensive “Navajo” underwear? No one seems to have written a really great book about this, though the internet provides a couple of good options for those who want to know more: Native Appropriations and a Native fashion magazine, Native Max.

photography // Brianne Burnell

It’s All About the Labels

A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear From WWI to 1960

Sue Nightingale’s process for dating vintage is simple: look at the label. Most of A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear WWI to 1960 is devoted to how to properly read and identify them. Only a few pages in, I found myself interested in learning just how to date denim, despite the fact that I haven’t worn jeans in about 12 years.

The book is filled with black and white ads for Sears, J.C. Penny, and other major menswear labels from WWI to 1960. Throughout the book, we see the graphic design of labels become less ornate and more regulated as the decades pass, showing us how subtle visual clues can reveal the exact date of the piece. A Dandy Guide goes into great detail over legislation that affected the look of labels during the time—incredibly helpful and very thorough—making some key notes on this section will help this guide become more functional for the reader. A quick reading of this section will familiarize you with the decades you are dealing with, but the book is a guide and having it handy while actually dating clothing will be when it’s most useful.

The second half of the book is an explanation of the general styles and trends of the time as well as practical care instructions for vintage clothing. Nightingale outlines popular styles on the pages filled with old pictures and advertisements, then gives tips as to what to initially look for when dating vintage. An entire chapter devoted to robes and “smoking jackets” is something we rarely see in contemporary men’s fashion, and is an interesting reminder as to how much the lives of men have changed—and thus their clothing. The same can be said for men’s work clothing. Denim was functional long before it was trendy.

A Dandy Guide to Dating Vintage is a valuable resource to anyone interested in vintage clothing, men’s or women’s, as the tips and tricks are helpful for both. Above all, this book is a guide. It’s not an evening read for the bathtub, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s designed to be lugged to Value Village with you the next time you’re eyeing those velvety smoking robes in the men’s aisle.

photography // Brianne Burnell

Have They Always Looked This Good?

Condé Nast and the Evolution of Fashion Photography

It’s true: I don’t buy Vogue for the articles (another heiress has an adventure, hurrah!). I buy it for the spreads. The lush, high-budget fashion spreads will always be my reason to pick up a copy of the magazine—something that, as a fashion nerd, has always made me feel a little shallow. Thankfully I picked up Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast, a book all about the importance of fashion photography as an art form, and its many contributions to the fashion world. Now, thanks to editor Nathalie Herschdorfer, I feel much more justified in flipping straight to the pretty pictures.

Herschdorfer acknowledges in her introduction that she made a bit of a devil’s bargain—choosing to focus only Condé Nast’s contribution to fashion photography, and leave out spreads from rival Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion mags. This does make for a bit of a one-sided read, but she makes an effort to mention the other publications when relevant, which definitely made me want to do some research on my own. That being said, the photos Herschdorfer was able to find at this one publishing house are truly remarkable especially because she decided to narrow her scope further by focusing on the early work of Condé Nast’s troupe of ‘Old Masters.’ As a result we are given a selection of the most innovative and inventive images printed in the magazines.

The book is filled with over two hundred beautifully reproduced photographs, which are mostly from Vogue or one of its international editions, with the occasional image thrown in from GQ, Vanity Fair, or a few others. The most remarkable thing about looking at these photographs is how often the clothing seems almost irrelevant in the photos—despite Herschdorf pointing out that Condé Nast was infamous for criticizing his photographers for being too ‘artful’ when they lost sight of their sartorial focus. It’s especially easy to view the photos as high art once they are taken out of the context of the magazine page, and the truth is that the photos were never entirely about clothes. As Herschdorf points out, the success of Conde Nast’s photographers was based on their ability to highlight a mood or lifestyle as much as a model’s outfit. Herschdorfer herself pays little heed to the fashions displayed, usually only bringing up the styles when a photographer has directly contributed to or popularized them.

Two essays penned by fashion historians Oliver Saillard and Sylvie Lecallier round out the book. Saillard focuses on the symbiotic relationship fashion photographers developed over the years with the couturier, arguing that the success of a fashion designer is often dependent on how well the concept behind a line can be expressed through a photo. Lecallier is more interested in the relationship between the fashion photographer and the model. She focuses on how photographers have helped define beauty ideals by choosing to work with certain models, often introducing the next supermodel or look. There is also an interview with Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani focusing on the relationship between the fashion editor and the photographer, which offers an interesting look into the mechanics behind creating a fashion spread.

The book is broken up into four areas with brief summaries explaining why the photos you’re looking at are important. The narrative is filled with juicy tidbits about Condé Nast discovering young talent and the imminent threat of Harper’s Bazaar stealing them away. Sidebars offer helpful details about how things developed stylistically and technically—what cameras were used, who used them, and the intent behind the image—as well as who the photographer was, their relationship to Condé Nast, and how they developed during their time with the publishing house. The participation of well-respected artists further emphasizes the artistic merit of the form, with photos by people like Salvador Dali and Diane Arbus receiving particular attention.

Although the essays and interviews are all interesting reads, the photographs are still the most compelling part of the book. I loved flipping through and trying to guess when an image was from; the high quality of the reprint often made it difficult to figure out when a photo was taken. It was fascinating to see the artistry behind the average fashion spread, and read about how the fashion photographer has evolved to become such an important figure.

photography // Laura Tuttle